There is a fascinating story of recent years involving the band Vampire Weekend and a model release. Or rather, the model who didn’t provide her release.

The girl in this photo is Kirsten Anne Kennis, or at least it is Kirsten Anne Kennis as she was in 1983.

In 2009, Kennis’ teenage daughter spotted her mum’s face on the cover of Vampire Weekend’s Contra album. The ex-model, now in her late 50s, was surprised at being the ‘new’ face of the indie-rock band’s album.

The photograph was a Polaroid and Kennis could not remember posing for it. Photographers routinely took these Polaroids of applicants at every day casting calls in New York at the time. The photographer, Tod Brody, sold it to the band. He said that he took it at a casting call for models for a TV commercial and that the model had signed a release for its use by him.

Kennis denied this. She said that even as a young model in her early 20s, she knew about her rights to her image that she refused to sign any releases, even in respect of the Polaroids taken at such events.

Kennis didn’t take kindly to her image being used without her permission. And in 2010, she took Vampire Weekend, their label XL Records and the photographer, Tod Brody to court, claiming US$2M in damages. Kennis relied on the significantly greater protections in this area afforded to US celebrities when compared to Australian celebrities.

The plot thickened when the photographer produced a model release form apparently signed by ‘Kristen Johnson’ dated July 2009, to support his version of events. He had crossed out and rewritten the date. Suspiciously, the form purported to licence the ex-model’s image to Vampire Weekend for a fee of $1.00.

Vampire Weekend and XL Records quickly settled the case with the model for an undisclosed sum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the photographer turned out to be unreliable.

Conclusion

If you are a photographer, you should be taking steps at the outset to protect your reputation! Ask LegalVision to provide you with a comprehensive release form for your models to sign that will allow you to commercialise their images in the future, and will also release you from liability from mishaps during the shoot.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t create the releases and forge the signatures later. Otherwise, your reputation, like the photographer in this story, will be instantly shot.

If you do want to obtain images from photographers and use them for commercial purposes, make sure the images come from a reputable photographer who has full rights to use them.

Catherine Logan

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